Precision in travel

Managing travel across four different provinces and multiple subsidiaries on behalf of travellers who often have almost immediate travel requirements, travel co-ordinator for AXIM, Olive Makhafola draws on a close working relationship with the company’s TMC. She speaks to Debbie Badham about establishing seamless routines and processes.

HANDLING requests for travel to remote destinations that must take place on the day on which they are received is daily routine for Olive Makhafola. As the travel co-ordinator for Africa X-Ray Industrial & Medical (AXIM), Makhafola is responsible for travellers who are on call to assist with technical emergencies. They need to be able to get to a wide range of places both inside and outside South Africa’s borders as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

To manage this effectively, Makhafola draws on her considerable background in travel to leverage her relationship with the company’s TMC, Travel Dynamics.

Having always known that she wanted to develop a career in travel, after school Makhafola elected to study International Travel at Varsity College. After completing the two-year diploma, she began her career in leisure travel with a small company called Agape Travel, where, as part of a two-person team she was given significant responsibility. She gained exposure to larger corporate accounts when she moved to work for Travel Leaders in Rivonia, at the same time handling a broader range of travel requirements in the form of car hire and accommodation. Thereafter she moved to a company named Panoptic where she was promoted to senior consultant.

Makhafola first heard of AXIM through a recruitment agent and was hired by the company in October 2013 to handle all the organisation’s travel booking requirements. Her travel team of one works closely together with their TMC to manage AXIM’s travel across Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein, as well as for the organisation’s other group companies. Makhafola reports directly to the executive PA to the company’s directors.    

Centralised bookings

The company’s travel is split largely into those elements that are booked through the GDS and those that aren’t. Essentially, Travel Dynamics handles GDS bookings, including flights and car rental, while Makhafola handles everything else. “All travel technology that we use sits with the TMC,” she explains. 

Booking is completely centralised both in terms of international and domestic bookings. Makhafola takes in order forms from the travellers and then, depending on the travel requirements, she either passes this on to the TMC or handles the booking herself.

She notes that it has proved to be extremely practical for the company to outsource the bulk of its travel because of the sheer volume of travellers for whom it is responsible. Given the nature of AXIM’s business, travel also needs to be processed immediately. “Probably the most challenging aspect of our day-to-day operations is when travellers are required to head through to the middle of nowhere that very day,” she comments.

Luckily, international bookings are more controlled. Makhafola reveals that around 90% of international bookings are issued months in advance. This helps a great deal with timing around visas and other travel document requirements.

Comprehensive databases

As AXIM sends travellers all over the country, including very remote areas, the company makes use of a large number of bed and breakfasts. This can prove tricky when it comes to ensuring accommodation is up to standard. However, Makhafola reveals that, over time, AXIM has built a significant database of appropriate suppliers. “In cases where travellers have encountered sub-standard offerings we simply remove that supplier from the list, leaving us with a comprehensive database of options,” she says.

Consistent communication

Despite its wide range of destinations, duty of care is a fairly hassle-free process for Makhafola. She explains that the Travel Dynamics is vigilant in its communication around travel-related issues with the potential to impact safety and security. “Our travel agent sends through day-to-day updates. We then pass on the applicable notification to the entire company by email,” she says, adding that it is then up to the traveller to take notice of the communication if it should apply to their particular situation.

Savvy negotiations

 AXIM takes a strict and straightforward approach to budgeting. There is a Travel Standard Operating Procedure in place regarding accommodation cost, class of flight and car hire that are able to be booked. “This applies to everyone throughout the company. Everyone is treated the same,” says Makhafola.

Having worked on the supplier side of the industry, she finds negotiations with suppliers to be relatively simple. Key, says Makhafola, is to consider future increases when negotiating rates. “With these increases in mind, I determine whether the current rate is acceptable or whether we will require that supplier to drop their rate by a certain percentage,” she explains. “Our budgets are very strict so equally important is to know when to move on from a particular supplier when they are unable to provide the rate required.”

Controlled expenses

When it comes to reconciliation processes, this is made easier by tightly controlled expenses. Accommodation is pre-paid and travellers are provided with forex for the other everyday expenses. “They then come back with receipts, which are sent through to and reconciled by the accounts department,” she says.  

Limited changes

The greatest change in shifting from booking leisure travel to corporate travel is the number of changes involved, says Makhafola. “When you deal with corporate bookings, the dates of the trip might change, but generally the destination remains the same. Leisure bookings are completely different – I think of corporate travel as controlled chaos,” she quips.

Changes are not implemented lightly. According to Makhafola, travellers must produce a valid reason for requesting a change. She notes that this more often happens with domestic bookings rather than international ones. “When it comes to change fares, changes are implemented in relation to what is most effective.”

Performance under pressure

She says that perhaps her greatest achievement since joining AXIM has been discovering her ability to perform under pressure. “When I first joined the company, there was a gap in the organisation in terms of the person whom I report to. I had to be really hands-on and deal with things myself, but I think that I handled that pressure really well.”

In terms of future operations, the company will continue with its current systems and procedures. “Things have been working well so far, so for now we will stick with what works.”                    

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